I agree with Richard in one of those areas, sometimes I think people are quick to say “Don’t beat yourself up too much” to others. If we are talking about someone who’s going on and on because they gave in and ate 1 Hershey Kiss at lunch time, then yes that person probably shouldn’t be beating themselves up. But if you decided to eat half a pig because the moon was full then you should probably beat yourself up a little. Accept responsibility, learn from it, and move forward. It doesn’t mean you have to flog yourself for two weeks, but you should probably feel a little shame. Hold yourself accountable at an appropriate level to the infraction.
Now on the “cheat days” I disagree (sort of). For starters I hate the term “cheat day” because it automatically denotes doing something you shouldn’t do. I use the term “unrestricted day”. Call it what you want, what we’re talking about here is a day where you can eat whatever you want. I’m a big fan of the unrestricted day and I have one every week.
One of the biggest struggles people have with losing weight is the feeling or restriction. Right or wrong we have foods that we simply love to eat. When you restrict your diet to lose weight there are some things that you simply will not be able to eat on a regular basis. Cut them out forever and you begin to feel deprived. Feel deprived of something and now you just want it more! The only way to prevent that feeling is to allow that food in moderation.
Most of us trying to lose weight suck at moderation (duh) so having a rule that helps with moderation only makes sense. I absolutely love a toasted everything bagel with peanut butter. I eat two on every one of my unrestricted days and because of that I’m perfectly fine eating oatmeal and hard boiled eggs the other six days of the week. Does that sound like a reasonable compromise to you?
Now having said all that I do think the devil is in the details. If Richard is referring to people who just announce “I decided to have a cheat day because I was totally stressed out and deserved a treat” then I agree with him that cheat days aren’t helping that person get healthy. However , with just a few simple rules to govern the day, you can turn it into something that’s quite helpful. Here are my rules about “unrestricted days”:
- I choose the day ahead of time; it does not choose me. Most of the time I have my unrestricted day on Sunday. We tend to do a lot of hiking or going on family trips so often we’ll end up packing sandwiches (I don’t eat processed grains during the week) or go out at lunch or dinner time. On occasion we will proactively move it to Saturday if we’ve got a good reason (Child’s birthday party, Travel day, Visitors). The most important point though is that we never change on the day. If I’m driving by 5 Guys on Thursday and feeling like a big burger with fries; I can’t simply call it my cheat day and stop in.
- It is not a reward for “good” behavior. I get my unrestricted day regardless of how I did the rest of the week. It is not a reward for good behavior and it cannot be taken away for bad behavior either. Don’t reward or deny yourself with food. My unrestricted day is not a reward, it is a choice that’s part of my overall weight loss plan.
- Unrestricted does not equal “guilt free”; I’m still accountable for the choices I make. During the week my choices are restricted somewhat. On my unrestricted day my choices are not restricted but I’m still accountable for what I do. If I treat it like a “get out of jail free” card, then am I really committed to my plan? Having this day doesn’t allow me to shed my responsibilities to myself it just gives me some freedom around the choices I make
The unrestricted day is not a license to eat, but rather a tool to help you eat in moderation. It has worked wonders for me, especially with deferring gratification (another problem we fat people sometimes have). If I’m craving a big ole Sausage sandwich with peppers and onions I’ll tell myself that If I’m still craving it at the end of the week I’ll have it then. A lot of times that craving goes away and by the time Sunday rolls around I don’t even care about it anymore.
This is just my opinion and maybe this process doesn’t work for everyone, but my most successful attempts have allowed for this type of weekly deviation. Just like every other part of your healthy living journey, your plan has to be something you can live with. If you are someone who constantly pigs out on your cheat day or you have multiple cheat days then maybe this doesn’t work for you.
Lastly, I want to say thanks to Richard for bringing up this topic and I encourage others to submit a post about it on their blogs. It’s nice that we can share multiple points of view on a topic; that’s what makes this community strong. What do you think?
[Photo: Flickr / trec_lit ]